Chicken Bulgogi – My Answer to a Fast, Kid-friendly Weeknight Meal

 

20140627-075600-28560045.jpg

My Chicken Bulgogi

Today in my quest to answer the almighty question of “What’s for dinner for my girls?”, I steered closer to more familiar Asian fares for their sake. The other night I introduced my girls to Mexican enchiladas with red sauce without much success. My hubby and I enjoyed the gooey, cheesy dish and our plates were quickly cleaned. Unfortunately, the poor girls couldn’t tolerate the smokiness of the chipotle flavor albeit it was rather mild. That’s okay! When first we don’t succeed, we’ll just keep trying.

Chicken enchilada in red sauce. My and I enjoyed it, but wasn't our girls' jam (not yet).

Chicken enchiladas in red sauce. My hubby and I enjoyed it but it wasn’t our girls’ jam (not yet).

A definite crowd pleaser for my girls is braised or grilled meats that’s savory, finger-licking, and slightly sweet. They also appreciate a side of their favorite veggies stir-fried. Broccoli, corn, and zucchini seems to be their current callings.

As such, I’m going to make a delicious, kid-friendly favorite – Korean Dak Bulgogi or chicken Bulgogi. This is Korean’s answer to BBQ chicken, an alternative to beef Bulgogi, which is thinly sliced, marinated beef that’s usually grilled. I love how the chicken, when cut into bite-size pieces are quickly marinated and cooked on the stovetop in no time at all. Although simple to prepare, this dish packs a great deal of flavor. I often resort to this recipe for easy weeknight cooking just to spare myself the insanity. I am no supermom! Entertaining 2 energetic babies, keeping them safe in the kitchen while cooking a “decently tasting” meal (without butchering my food in the process) is a true art form I have yet to master.

This chicken bulgogi recipe was adapted from Hyosun Ro’s beautiful and informative blog, Korean Bapsang. Her blog inspires me to cook more Korean food for my hubby, a native of Seoul, South Korea. I’ve since made several changes to suit my family’s needs and ever-changing palette such as doubling up on the ingredients to ensure leftovers. I’ve reduced the amount of sugar and sesame oil since my girls prefer just a hint of sweetness and a subtle smell of sesame oil. The smell and flavor of the sesame oil can be too overwhelming for them. I’ve also added a tiny bit of fish sauce. It’s my Vietnamese touch but it really adds an extra depth of flavor; kind of like the Italians using anchovies as a base for some of their pasta dishes but a typical diner would never noticed small anchovies were added given its subtlety after the cooking process. Occasionally, I’ll use Shaoxing rice wine or a decent Pinot Grigio in the marinade. It all depends on what I have available or in the mood for at that time. A must for me is adding chopped green onions and sliced shallots only because garlic, ginger, onions/shallots are included in just about everything that I cook for an additional flavor bump. I always pan-sear the chicken pieces in batches to achieve a caramelized crust on the chicken’s exterior. Only then will I add the marinade to the skillet and cook the chicken thoroughly. This allows me to still have a bit of sauce at the bottom of the skillet to drizzle on my girls’ bowls of steamed rice. It’s a favorite for them and thus, mandatory.

Tonight the girls ate chicken Bulgogi with their favorite, broccoli stir fried with garlic and a small bowl of piping hot jasmine steamed rice. Another answer to the almighty question conquered. One down, a million more to go!

Here’s my take on chicken bulgogi (adapted from Korean Bapsang).
Yields 6-8 servings, when served with 1-2 side dishes

Ingredients:
2 – 2 1/2 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken thighs cut into bite-size pieces
5 T light soy sauce
1.5 T fish sauce
2 T fresh lime juice (or lemon)
1.5 T brown sugar
1.5 T honey
2 T rice wine (Mirin, or decent dry white wine)
1 T sesame oil
2.5 T minced garlic
1 T minced ginger
freshly ground black pepper (6-7 turns on my pepper mill)
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 stalks of green onions, chopped into 1″ pieces, green and white parts separated (with white parts smashed flat with back of knife)
1 t toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Steps:
1. Cut chicken into bite-size pieces. Set aside.
2. Prepare marinade: In a large mixing bowl, add fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, lime or lemon juice, sugar, wine, minced garlic, ginger, white part of green onions only), and freshly ground black pepper. Mix well to incorporate all ingredients, and dissolve the sugar.

20140628-023810-9490923.jpg
3. Add chicken pieces to the bowl of marinade. With clean hands (plastic kitchen gloves comes in handy here), work marinade into chicken pieces until every piece is covered with marinade. Place into fridge for at least 30 minutes. I prefer at least 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours so marinade will really penetrate the chicken.

20140627-075605-28565292.jpg

4. Preheat a large skillet on med/high heat. Drizzle some canola or vegetable oil and swirl to coat the skillet. Add half of the shallot slices to the oil. Let sizzle for 1 minute around the hot oil.

image

5. Add enough chicken pieces to cover bottom of skillet. Work in 2-3 batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding and risk steaming the chicken. Pan sear the chicken pieces until a brown, caramelized crust forms on the surface of the chicken. If necessary, reduce heat slightly to avoid burning chicken. Add another drizzle of canola oil, and flip chicken pieces over and pan-sear the opposite side. Remove and set aside in a bowl nearby skillet.

20140627-075603-28563668.jpg

20140627-075602-28562859.jpg

20140627-075601-28561834.jpg

6. Repeat pan searing steps until all chicken pieces are browned. Return chicken and its juices from nearby bowl to the skillet. Drizzle marinade from mixing bowl over the chicken. Add sesame seeds (if using). Stir well. Lower heat to low-med, cover with lid for additional 3-5 minutes to ensure chicken is cooked through. Shut off heat. Toss chopped green onions on top of chicken. Serve hot with a side dish or two of choice.

20140627-075600-28560929.jpg

20140627-075600-28560045.jpg

20140627-075559-28559118.jpg

Day of The Daylilies

 

20140625-073708-27428369.jpg

Daylily lends a welcoming pop of vibrant orange to a currently lackluster front yard.

Summer in Texas is brutal for my beloved garden with its unbearably high humidity and temperatures easily soaring to the late 90’s, even the 100’s by midday. The scorching rays of the sun can wreak havoc on my heirloom tomatoes, roses, and hydrangeas. It seems like daily watering is mandatory to keep these plants alive let alone produce flowers or fruits. However, it’s been 3 days since I’ve had a chance to water my plants in the front yard. Life is crazy with 2 little ones at the moment and sometimes my garden takes a backseat, sadly.

This morning I took a minute to inspect the damages of my neglect and was even expecting some casualties. I’m mostly concerned about a couple of shade-loving hydrangeas and a treasured lavender which are in containers. My sprinkler heads can’t reach them and I have yet to install a drip or self-watering system for them (on my To Do List).

As I suspected, my blue mophead hydrangeas were suffering alright. All the leaves were heavily drooping downward like an incredibly sad clown face. New buds were shriveling inwards. My treasured 3 year-old lavender I recently transplanted into an old urn resurrected from the backyard was screaming “Water me, already!”. It was spindly, limpy, and was probably on its last leg if left in its current state of neglect for another couple of days. I was horrified and ashamed this was a result of my doing or lack thereof. Needlessly to say, I took the time (I didn’t have) to deep water all my neglected beauties. Hopefully, they’ll perk up in a few hours.

 

image

My blue hydrangeas at the very back was so lush and healthy previously.

20140625-073715-27435611.jpg

Same blue hydrangea plant, dead headed the spent flowers, but so droopy from my lack of watering.

 

 

image

My lavender in its former glory prior to neglect and semi-drought.

20140625-073717-27437365.jpg

Same lavender in its current state this morning prior to deep watering.

What I’m very surprised with which made my day were my orange daylilies and a dahlia. Nothing marks the pleasant presence of summer more than seeing a pop of color from a daylily. I had completely forgotten about these trusty, no-fuss, drought-tolerant, perennial gem all year and when I least expect it, they surprised me with a dramatic show. It was so beautiful to see their vibrant orange petals popping up in various locations. I even forgot that last year I separated many of the root bulbs that were heavily clustered together and replanted them in bare parts of my garden. I wanted some type of flowering plants in these areas but they had to be low to no maintenance. These daylilies fit the bill. What a great investment! No money required as they multiply, watering is minimal, and they can endure the sizzling sun.

20140625-073709-27429458.jpg

20140625-073708-27428369.jpg

 

20140625-073710-27430297.jpg

 

 

20140625-073712-27432116.jpg

20140625-073712-27432961.jpg

20140625-073713-27433794.jpg

 

 

 

 

20140625-073716-27436502.jpg

 

Although my roses can use some watering, I have fairly resilient specimens. My favorite and hardiest rose, the Double Delight (DD) is by far the hardest working rose. Although it’s now suffering from black spots given the high heat and humidity, it still produces an abundance of spicy, heavenly scented, large roses. What makes the DD such a favorite is that no two rose on the same plant bears the exact same color unlike my coral Fragrant Cloud or plum Intrigue. The color variations on a DD from a small bud to fully a bloomed rose is also very unique. You may see a newly budded rose showing its delicate creamy white interior with just a splash of pink around the outer most exterior of the petals. Yet, another DD in full bloom can be completely pale to hot pink with no trace of white. You can also see a different DD with mostly white petals and only a hint of pink randomly disbursed. It’s spectacular to say the least!

20140625-073718-27438357.jpg                  20140625-073720-27440173.jpg        20140625-073719-27439202.jpg

image         image

The best surprise was found in my backyard. My mystery dahlia which I’ve planted some time in March has finally revealed its true color. For now, it appears to be a yellow, perhaps orange, even. For months, when the bulb was planted I would check regularly for new buds forming. Nope! Got nothing, just branches and green foliages. The anticipation and excitement builds. I know. These things doesn’t sound too interesting to normal folks. I think it’s possibly more relatable and appreciated by other avid gardeners. I bought the dahlias from Costco in a large bag labeled as “Color Splash” with 15 supposedly large blooming dahlias in different shades of red and orange. I think the manufacturer made a mistake. I’ve planted most of them and I’ve only seen pink to purple dahlias; still beautiful (and what I’ve been spoiled with the past few weeks like these below) but definitely not my first color pick. If all goes well, more dahlias will be blooming soon. Here’s hoping for some smoldering red or orange dahlias. Can’t wait for another photo opportunity.

20140625-092542-33942531.jpg       image

 

 

image    image   image

image    image   image

 

Speedy Kimchi Jigae (Soup) with Soft Tofu, Fatty Pork Shoulder, and Zucchini

What is a girl to do when she has a forgotten jar of Kimchi (pickled napa cabbage) tucked in the back corner of her fridge that’s a month over its freshness? The kimchi is fairly ripened that it’s beginning to possess an overly pungent “aroma”, a bit on the sour side, and so not worthy to serve as a side dish next to enticing grilled or fried meat dishes. There’s only one thing to do – turn it into a hearty one-bowl wonder like Kimchi Jigae, Korean for soup.image

My Korean hubby introduced me to this foreign (to me, at least) cooking concept some years ago where food are never wasted, just transformed into better tasting mouthfuls. Genius, I tell you! Kimchi jigae is one of those hearty, comfort foods from his childhood that I’ll make for him whenever we have left over kimchi that’s approaching the sour side. Neither one of us wants to go near it, not even to serve on a bed of steam rice, topped with a fried egg and toasted seaweed squares. What kimchi snobs, right?

Kimchi jigae is so simple to whip up with just a few ingredients. Within 30 minutes or so, this spicy, subtly sour (in a good way), fatty cauldron of comfort will be in front of your face to devour with a small bowl of steamed jasmine rice on the side. There are so many variations of kimchi jigae, such as veggie jigae with fresh or dried shitake mushrooms and zucchinis, beef or one with mixed seafood (i.e. clams, scallops, shrimps, even lobsters). Hmm, already salivating! The sky (and whatever is available in your fridge and pantry) is the limit.

Today, I’m just doing a good old basic kimchi jigae with soft tofu, zucchini, and pork shoulders. Once you’ve gotten the basic method down, you can run with this any way you fancy. The key to a really good kimchi jigae is to use ripened, not overly ripened kimchi. Yes, there’s a difference. For kimchi, “ripened” is when you look at the jar and noticed all the napa cabbage leaves have turned from a vibrant, solid white and green color combo to a very pale, uniformed off white translucent color. Also, when the jar is opened it’s more pungent than when bought initially with a very distinct sour smell. In my house, that usually takes anywhere between 3 weeks to 1 1/2 months. Overly ripened is when 2-3 months later, you open the jar and it’s about to explode. The juice spills over with millions of bubbles and a gaseous, nauseous smells, too overwhelming for even the oldest of old school Korean cooks to salvage. It’ll be too sour to make jigae; there’s not enough sugar to save its soul. Let that jar go, please! Of course freshly bought kimchi can be used for the recipe but for some reason ripened kimchi gives it an extra depth of flavor.

The other tip I have is to use the fattiest part of the pork shoulder to ensure an extra rich broth. My other preferred meat is uncooked pork belly (bacon) because each thin slice will have equal parts: fat, skin, and meat. The fattier the broth, the better as it will tone down the sourness of the ripened kimchi, adding a slightly natural sweetness to the broth. Trust me on this one (and per my kimchi aficionado-ish hubby).

Here’s my recipe. Yields 4-6 servings (when served with rice and other sides)

Ingredients:

2 cups ripened kimchi cabbage (about 3 wks – 1 1/2 months old in fridge since jar first opened)

1-2 cups kimchi juice from jar (if short on juice, can supplement with water later)

1-1.5 cups zucchini, chopped into cubes

1 package silken or extra soft tofu (excess water drained) cut into cubes

1/2 medium yellow or white onion, thinly sliced

1-2 Tbsp minced garlic cloves

1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger

2 Tbsp green onions chopped into 1″ spears

1/2 to 1 tsp granulated sugar (depends on sourness of kimchi)

1/2 Tbsp fish sauce

1/2 tsp kosher salt

More Salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Canola or vegetable oil for cooking

 

Instructions:

1. Remove kimchi cabbage from jar. Cut into bite size pieces. Place into a mixing bowl.

image

2. Pour enough kimchi juice from jar into measuring cup equal to 1-2 cups. If short on kimchi juice, supplement with water. Pour water into jar, make a slurry by stirring slightly around to get all flavors of red chili clinging onto jar. Reserve for broth.

image

I just added my kimchi juice to bowl with kimchi to spare myself from washing the measuring cup.

3. Cut silken or soft tofu into small squares. Set aside.

image

4. Chopped veggies: zucchinis into small cubes, minced garlic and ginger, slice yellow onions thinly, green onions cut into 1” spears.

image

Made myself a veggie-ready kit in a bag with all needed veggies prepped/chopped the night prior.

5. Slice pork shoulder or pork belly into thin strips, use the fattiest pieces. Set aside.

image

6. In a 4 qt sauce pan or stock pot preheat on med/high heat, add ginger and a few pieces of sliced onions. Toss around for a minute. Add pork meat, minced garlic (garlic added before meat may result in bitter and burnt taste), sprinkled with salt and a few grinds of cracked black pepper. Brown meat until caramelized. Add rest of sliced yellow onion slices. Cook for another 1-2 minutes.

 

7. Add chopped kimchi and zucchini. Add fish sauce, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp sugar (for now, can add more later during tasting if broth is still more sours than desired).

image   image

 

8. Add kimchi juice to saucepan. Add slurry water to completely cover the surface of the kimchi and zucchini . (You want soup not a thick chili consistency.) Stir well.

9. Bring to a boil on high heat. When broth bubbles vigorously, reduce heat to low. Quickly skim foam on surface. Don’t skim all of it or you’ll remove some fatty goodness along the way.

image

 

Cover with lid, simmer for 20 minutes.

image

10. Open lid, taste for seasoning. This is where a “little of this and that” comes in. Add a little more salt if desire. If broth is more sour than you’d want, add another 1/2 tspn of sugar. Adding a few drops of fish sauce couldn’t hurt either. Give it a stir.

11. Add soft tofu. Gently stir all ingredients together, avoid breaking up tofu into a million pieces. Cover with lid, simmer for another 10 minutes.

image

12. Open lid, taste for seasoning. If broth is savory with salty/subtly sweet and a slight hint of sourness well in balanced, stir gently, and add green onions on top. Serve piping hot alongside a bowl of steamed rice.

image

image

A Father’s Day Tribute to My Partner in Crime

A Life Partner of My Dreams

Today my loving hubby is enjoying his fifth year of fatherhood. As such, I wanted to give a shout out to the life partner of my dreams. Without him, I would not be the wife and mother I am today. We literally grew up together through the tumultuous, hormone-driven teen years. We were side-by-side through those hazy college days. He is now my best co-pilot in navigating the ever-changing storms of parenthood (i.e. lack of sleep, exhaustion, baby diva tantrums, etc.). After 24 years together, he remains committed, loving, and up for whatever. He not only adequately provides for our family, he is my soul mate and travel partner. We can openly communicate about anything under the sun. He truly accepts my quirky ways without expecting me to change anything. He is tolerant with a messy house given our two babies running the show. He will eat whatever I feed him without complaint. image

Yet, what amazes me most is his unconditional love and sheer devotion as a father to my two baby divas. I can always count on him to “be there” and “be active”. His patient level is commendable and earns my utmost respect. His willingness to sit through a clueless conversation or whimsical imaginary playtime with his toddler and kindergartener leaves me spellbound sometimes. Those baby divas often take forever to finish their thoughts or their games.  At times, their screeching voices can send me to Looney-ville but he is not phased by them. Instead, he just casually tunes them out and carries on with his mellow self. Those divas are Daddy’s little girls. They know his answers involves more “Yes” than “No” to their random wishes so they milk him dry whenever the opportunity knocks. They have him eating out of their dainty baby hands and that’s perfectly fine with him (for now…)!

Happy Father’s Day, Love!

Pan Fried Pork Chops Marinated in Honey, Ginger, Garlic and Soy Glaze

image

Act I: Lunch of fried pork chop on a bed of steamed rice, homegrown heirloom baby cherry tomatoes & thai basils drizzled with fresh lemon juice and extra olive oil.

One of my favorite workhorses in the kitchen is actually not in the kitchen at all, but sits quietly on the side of my  sunny back patio. It’s my beloved 3-burner stainless steel, gas grill, bought on clearance some years ago at Lowe’s towards the tail end of summer. On average, my grill bust its chops at least 2-3 times a week, rain or shine, cold or hot. I find some food tastes WAY better grilled than boiled, baked, or steamed. Something about that smokiness, often times healthier, but always more delicious flavor from the intense, high heat that beckons me to grill again and again. To some of my dear lady friends out there, grilling is EASY and not just a Man thing! Your kitchen will not be a hot mess afterwards either.

However, having a toddler and preschooler always clinging to one of my legs these days poses a great challenge for my outdoor grilling fix. I only do so when my hubby can fully keep our girls at bay. Anyone with young, energetic kids can attest, trying to fire up the grill with propane fully blasted, heat on high, and having to repeatedly tell two “Curious Georgettes” to keep a safe distance, and have them listen (chuckling) sends chill down my spine. I can already picture disasters left and right: either somebody will get burned or my grilled food will be the sacrificial lamb to the Goddess of Flames. Either scenario would be a real shame.

Instead, I’ve had to improvised my recipes occasionally, and at this moment it’s no exception. Rather than grilling, I’m pan frying some pork chops. Not just any pork chops, but I’m using my trusty honey/soy/fish sauce/hoisin/ginger/garlic marinade I frequently use on my BBQ baby back ribs for the grill and pressure cooker. What I love about this marinade is its simplicity and so very quick to put together but packs a bold, savory and subtly sweet punch of flavor. The pork chops were marinated overnight and today, I pan fried them until golden and delicious. It doesn’t get any simpler. Did I mentioned it’s very kid-friendly? That’s my way of cooking these days: more kid-friendly, must yield a large portion, and it better be no-fuss, super easy to prepare. Otherwise, forget about it! The inevitable take-out menu lurks in the shadow behind our dusty, barely used, handheld cordless home phone. It’s waiting in the wings like a bench warmer on a bleacher, dying to be summoned to serve his sports team at the call of duty. But, not today! For lunch, we had these finger-licking, sticky pork chops on a bed of steamed rice, a simple salad of homegrown heirloom cherry tomatoes and thai basils drizzled with fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. For dinner, I pan fried the remaining half of the pork chops with a side of fresh corn sautéed in garlic butter (my girls’ favorite veggie of the month, or week). Again, on a bed of steam white rice because that’s the way we roll around here in my Vietnamese kitchen. There were a few pork chops left over for the girls’ lunch the next day.

image

Act II: Kid-friendly dinner of fried pork chops, fresh corn sautéed in garlic butter on a bed of steamed rice.

Here’s my recipe. Enjoy!

Yields approximately 7-9 servings (varies with one’s appetite)

Ingredients:
10-12 thin pork chops
1 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
1″ knob of ginger, peeled and smashed
1/4 cup Asian pear, prefer Korean pear, peeled & grated (very optional)
5-6 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsp canola oil
4 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp light soy sauce
1.5 Tbsp fish sauce
7 Tbsp hoisin sauce
2 Tbsp Maggi seasoning sauce
1/4 Tspn freshly ground black pepper

Steps:
1. Inspect pork chops, remove any bone fragments on the surface of chops. (I prefer my chops fairly thin. From the meat package I bought, some were a bit thick. With the back of a meat mallet, I thinly pounded the chops out a few times.). Set aside and prepare marinade.
2. In a large mixing bowl, add soy sauce, fish sauce, hoisin, Maggi, canola oil, honey, ground black pepper, and stir well.

image image image

image

3. To the same mixing bowl, add chopped onions, smashed ginger, minced garlic, and grated pear (if using). Stir well.

Cook’s Note: Asian pear acts as a meat tenderizer. If Asian pear is unavailable, then skip it. I’ve done without many times and it’s very doable. If pork chops were pounded thinly and left to marinate overnight, the marinade will penetrate through the meat, resulting in flavorful, succulent pork chops, regardless.

image  image

4. Add pork chops, 1 to 2 at a time, rubbing the marinade onto each side of the chop, getting into the nooks and crannies. Repeat until all pork chops are evenly coated with marinade. Cover with plastic wrap. Place into fridge for 4 hours or overnight, preferably.

image  imageimage  image

5. Prior to  pan frying or grilling pork chops, remove chops from fridge at least 45 minutes to 1 hour to take the initial chill off meat.
For Frying: Preheat large skillet or grill pan on medium/high heat. Coat skillet/pan with 2-3 Tbsp of canola or vegetable oil. When skillet/pan is hot, add 2-4 pork chops at a time, depending on size of skillet/grill pan. Avoid overcrowding, fry in batches if necessary. Cover with lid, reduce heat to medium. Once bottom side of pork chops are browned (3-5 minutes), flip chops to opposite side. Add another 2 Tbsp of canola/vegetable oil if pan becomes dry. Fry chops for another 3-4 minutes, lid on, until chops are golden browned with caramelized crust forming on meat’s surface. Remove cooked pork chops and repeat steps for remaining pork chops.

image  image

image  image

image  image

Grilling: Preheat grill. Once grill becomes sizzling hot, dip a piece of paper towel into canola or vegetable oil. With a pair of tongs, wipe oiled paper towel over grill grates to grease them. This creates a nonstick cooking surface for pork chops. Place pork chops onto grill, close grill lid. Now step away from pork chops. Resist temptation of poking and turning the meat prematurely. After 3-4 minutes, open lid, check bottom side of chops. Once brown, flip chops to opposite side. Grill with lid covered for another 3-4 minutes. Then check for doneness, remove from grill, and place onto serving platter. If left longer on the grill, one may risk overcooking pork chops. Keep in mind, once off the hot grill, the chops will continue to cook via crossover cooking process.